Saturday 27 August 2011

The author's view

It has been an amazing few weeks since The Lantern was published in the US and Canada. Reviews have flooded in, including some wonderful write-ups in the Washington Post (here), USA Today (here) and the Chicago Tribune (here). I can’t tell you how thrilling it has been to receive the links in my email inbox.

There have also been a plethora of opinions and lovely reviews online, the links to some of my personal favourites I will include at the end of this post. What is endlessly fascinating is how readers react so differently to the same book. For some it’s too slow, while others enjoy the dreamy pace. Some think it lacks true Gothic elements and has no twist to offer at the end; others are chilled by the quiet near-realism of the ending. Some think there’s too little plot; others see the weave as an intriguing story that drew them in. A few think I’ve simply stolen Daphne du Maurier’s most famous work.

The truth is that we all read according to our own interests, experience and preconceptions. In the months I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve tried to match pictures to words and to show the background of the book without really suggesting how to interpret the story. What lies beneath, in other words. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my view of The Lantern.

On a subtle level The Lantern is a novel about reading and stories and words. Is it too descriptive, using too many varied adjectives? Maybe, but the narrator Eve is a translator: words, and the precise choice of them, matter to her. The control of language, for her, means stability and rational understanding of her surroundings and situation when it seems she might otherwise be losing control.

Eve is a shy bookworm, whose comfort zone is reading. But her new life cut off from family and friends, coupled with mounting uncertainty about Dom, only sends her to books that exacerbate her dread, until she is not sure whether she is imagining the worst because she is influenced by the stories she is reading, or whether she is more accepting than she should be because she is seeing real life through the gauze of literature.

It is also a novel about spirits and ghosts and the histories held all around us, both in the obvious sense of the atmosphere of the run-down old house, and the ghosts of Eve and Dom’s own past that will not settle. Is Les Genévriers haunted, or are these psychological manifestations? And, just as there are always echoes of the past life of old houses, there are always echoes of earlier stories in literature.

In The Lantern, there is a clear line that stretches back through Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece Jane Eyre, the classic English gothic novel of the house, the man and the first wife…

Why set the novel in Provence? Remember Mr Rochester’s request of Jane (which she refuses) that they live together as man and wife in the South of France even though they cannot be legally married because his wife is still alive. Beyond Jane Eyre is the Bluebeard legend: the old French tale of a new young wife whose husband refuses to tell her what became of his previous wives, but she realises that the answer lies behind a locked door of his castle.

Bénédicte, as an elderly woman alone on the hill, becomes the subject of speculation and stories heard and embellished by trespassing village children. Behind the brightness of the Provençal countryside are dark tales told by farmers and shepherds, retold in books by the writer Jean Giono and read by both Bénédicte and Eve. Then there are the partial, apparently interrupted stories told by Rachel, and discovered by Eve.

The Lantern is also about isolation. Eve and Dom insulate themselves from the modern world in their own dream cocoon. Bénédicte lives on alone at Les Genévriers, the young girl who has become an isolated old woman whom others call crazy. Marthe is isolated by her blindness. In such circumstances, small details become large.

At times when the characters seem detached from the reality, their state of mind or interpretation of a situation is mirrored in their descriptions of the landscape. In a very obvious example, Eve and Dom travel to Davos for a skiing trip, but Dom will not admit what is troubling him - while all around is the cold, hard white dazzle of a frozen world.

Both the novel’s past and present voices are first-person narrators; both are courageous, loyal and self-contained in their different situations. (Perhaps on some psychic level, there is a mutual recognition of this.) Although they do admit to fear and anger, for the most part their emotions are buried, but surface in the way they see what is around them, in their descriptions of nature, the house and the landscape. To Eve, in the first flush of love, the property seems to expand around them, with the infinite possibilities of blue horizon beyond. Later, the walnuts fall from the tree “like fat brown tears”.

This detachment and displacement is echoed in loss of one sense and the subsequent need to compensate by using others more acutely. The idea of writing a “sensory novel” (which luxuriates in descriptions of all five senses) grew from this. How do you capture music, or fragrance, or texture, or taste in words? The challenge was to try to write visual descriptions might be vivid if heard by a blind person, or scent descriptions that might come alive through the sight of words on a page.

Here are just a very few of the blog reviews that have put a wide smile on my face. I’ve posted others on the book’s Facebook page (here). If you’ve enjoyed the book, do consider “Liking” and joining us – apart from anything else, interaction is much easier over there.

Nomadreader (click here)
The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog (click here)
Cornflower Books (click here)
The Lost Entwife (click here)
Rundpinne (click here)
Devourer of Books - Audio (click here)
Amusing Reviews (click here)


Anonymous said...

You've had some great reviews, Deborah, and I think you can be very satisfied with The Lantern's reception. It's interesting how different people experience it in different ways but then reading is such a subjective thing. I hope it goes from strength to strength.

Kelly Hashway said...

It's true that everyone will read a book and get a different experience/feeling from it. I love that you took the time to give your impression of the book and the MC. It's always great to hear what the author was going for. And you know, it's okay if other people get something different from the novel. Reading is an individual experience.

Congrats on some really awesome reviews.

Elizabeth Young said...

An amazing, enlightening post Deborah that I enjoyed very much. The reviews are spectacular, and oh the joy of everything coming together so very well! Your experience is something I will never forget...

Anonymous said...

Ce qui est formidable chez toi, Deborah, c'est que tu es au centre de ton roman. Tu vis l'histoire. Tu nous fais entrer dans la lanterne par la grande porte, et ton enthousiasme me fascine.
Bon week-end!

OEBooks said...

Hi Deborah, I blogged about this very subject the other day. It's why I have so much trouble labeling a book bad. It's that funny thing called perception.

At any rate, Congratulations.


Unknown said...

Congratulations on all the wonderful reviews. Your post is thoughtful, as always, and I love those photos. Here's to the continued success of your brilliant book.

Maureen said...

Wishing you many more great reviews!

Ann said...

I hope you allow yourself a celebratory champagne and special evening.

Hearty congratulations! I look forward to reading The Lantern.

Alcira Molina-Ali said...

Dearest Deborah,

I'm sure these past few weeks have been a surreal whirlwind.
My mother is eagerly devouring "The Lantern" and it will be passed to me next. She's loving it, btw.
From what you intimate in this post, the plot sounds right up my alley and I cannot wait to read your baby.
Enjoy this time for it is uniquely yours.
Cheers and best of luck, Alcira

Muriel said...

Some fantastic reviews...You must be delighted. I sometimes wonder how much of us we put into what we write...Where are you in "the lantern"?

Mary Aris said...

This is a very interesting Blog, Deborah. I am currently reading the Lantern and I'm captivated by your story.

I am also a writer myself, though an aspiring one. I've written and self-published eight books and run two blogs on Blogger:

Brenda said...

You nailed it, we all read a book uniquely. We readers bring our on set of guidelines and requirements that define good from not so good. For this reason, I never recommend books to another. I have obscure tastes, mostly acquired. As for reviews, it's the same thing. I don't normally pay much attention to them because the reviewer isn't me and has not idea what I might like. In any event, you did receive some wonderful reviews - which is important I guess since our world can't seem to function without being told what is good or bad.

Cathy said...

As my writer friend Deborah Batterman says, all reviews are worthwhile as it means someone has taken the time to read! On a personal note, though I'm still reading, the story scooped me up in its dreamy, otherworldly arms from the first sentence...

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